Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dennis & Erin's Excellent (Italian) Adventure - Part 2

Day 4 (Friday, October 16)
Dennis and I both slept poorly last night, but we still managed to get up at a reasonable hour. After a quick hotel breakfast, we headed down to the nearby waterbus stop and caught the line to Murano. The bus ride was long - about an hour - because of all the stops the bus makes, but we got a nice view of the city and San Michele, the cemetery island where Venetians are buried.

Following Rick Steves' Venice Lagoon Tour in our guide book, we hopped off the bus at Murano. Murano is known for its glass-blowing, so we fully expected to see glass workshops at every turn. Not so much. In fact, we didn't see a single one. We decided to make our way to the Glass Museum, and along the way we took in some lovely views of the island. And then there was this weirdness:


Maybe if it wasn't surrounded by crowd barricades. Or in shadow. Or had some sort of explanatory label. Maybe then I'd get it. But instead, all I could think was, "Thi
s is no Chihuly."

After touring the glass museum, which had some lovely glass and cera
mic artifacts excavated from the island (no photography allowed, but you can see some of the collection here), we made our way to the stop to catch the bus to the next island, Burano (yes, they rhyme). Along the way, we found this little piece of awesomeness, attached to the exterior of a building:

Double huh?

I'm going to take a stab in the dark and guess this has to do with the island's tradition of glass blowing. But something is just not quite right here...

After a lengthy wait (Burano is a less popular destination so there are fewer
buses) and a 40-minute ride, we arrived in Burano. Burano is known for its lace-making, so we were hoping to see little old ladies lining the streets, tatting to their hearts' content. Instead, we found what we came to call l'isola dei gatti - the island of cats. They were everywhere.

"That's right, this is my boat. You got a problem with that?"

"Why yes, I do make all the lace sold here myself. Why do you ask?"

We found Burano to be much more picturesque than Murano. It had a much more "lived-in" feeling - like real people make their lives there.

Houses painted in pastels and laundry hanging out to dry. Sigh.

So lovely.

Since the island's Lace Museum was closed for renovation, we strolled the island, had lunch, and then made our way back to the bus stop. We waited a while for our bus, then sailed back to Venice. The ride took about an hour and parts of it were decidedly unpicturesque, and we were pretty tired and windblown by the time we got back to Venice.

After a short nap, we headed out to dinner at a restaurant near the hotel that the staff recommended to us, Ristorante Antica Sacrestia. This place was down a dark alley and around a corner, but it seemed to be drawing plenty of diners. We were lucky to be seated immediately; folks arriving just a few minutes after us were lined up out the door. The ceilings were low, the lights were dim, and the tables were packed in like sardines. But the owner greeted us and the servers were attentive (though clearly busy). And the food was mostly tasty. Appetizers were good, wine was tasty, and Dennis's fish was excellent. I ordered the cuttlefish "alla veneziana" with polenta. Turns out that in this case, "alla veneziana" means "cooked in its own ink." Also turns out that I don't care for the taste of cuttlefish ink or food that looks like a solid black mass. I can't hold this against the restaurant, though, and since everything else was great, I'm guessing it's more an issue of my taste than the restaurant's preparation. On our way out, the owner stopped us and gave us a complimentary bag of house coffee (perhaps because I ordered yet another caffelatte after dinner? I'm so enamored with these now). A perfect ending to our last night in Venice.

Day 5 (Saturday, October 17)
We got up early this morning and took the #1 water bus line to the train station. The nice thing about this bus is that it travels the length of the Grand Canal. The major drawback is that it's a little slow (about 45 minutes from San Zaccaria to the train station) and it's seriously crowded - especially during the morning "commute," which is when we were aboard. Still, since we didn't take a gondola ride on the Grand Canal while we were there, it was nice to see the full length of the Canal before we left.

After arriving at the station much earlier than necessary, we eventually boarded our Eurostar train to Florence. Since we're wimpy Americans, we booked first class tickets and wouldn't have it any other way. We sat next to a nice Australian family with two adorable kids who weren't at all annoying (so rare for other people's kids!), and I shot a series of really blurry photos from the train during the 3 hour train ride.

The closest thing to a good shot from the train.

Dennis was very patient with all my photo snapping.

After we arrived in Florence, we made our way to our hotel, Hotel Casci. We got a little lost along the way, and it was made all the more nerve-wracking by the fact that this was the first Italian city we'd encountered that had cars. Cars with drivers who seem not to value pedestrians' lives at all. But, we finally arrived at our hotel, checked in, and collapsed in our room. This one was about as well-equipped as the last, but lacked the picturesque Venetian view. It also had the world's most awkwardly placed toilet paper dispenser and a combination sink/fold-out bidet that released the most disgusting rotten egg smell every time one of us took a shower. Not cool.

After a brief rest, we got a snack at a cafe and then we made our way to the Accademia delle Belle Arti di Firenze. We reserved tickets in advance, which was a good thing, since it allowed us to bypass the line and the super-aggressive street vendors who hassled waiting tourists. The highlight was, of course, Michelangelo's Statue of David (no photography allowed, although this didn't seem to stop most visitors). I was really struck by how large the statue was. For some reason, I always thought it was much closer to life size, but it's actually much larger. There was also a special exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs located throughout the galleries, which made for a really interesting juxtaposition of nudes in the arts over time. Kinda cool.

After David, we headed back to the hotel for a quick nap (which, of course, went too long thanks to me), and then headed out for a late (by American standards) dinner at a cafe down the block. This turned out to be an awesome find. Named I' Daviddino, or Little David, the food was excellent and reasonably priced. I had tortelloni filled with spinach and ricotta in a cream sauce with ham and zucchini. I really regret not taking some photos of it, because it was sublime. We wrapped up our day with a stroll back to the hotel and much-needed night's rest.

Coming Up Next: Dennis & Erin do Florence!

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